by Barbara J. Wood
Excerpts from "Texas Ranger Captain William L. Wright"
Richard B. McClaslin authored a well-written and thoroughly researched biography of Texas Ranger William L. Wright in 2021. In the book, "Texas Ranger Captain William L. Wright" , Wright's life and personality come to life with Richard's way of words. I was privileged to read Rick's manuscript as the biography came to life & he has given permission to post excerpts. (Thank you Rick for writing this enjoyable biography of Wilson County Texas' legendary lawman William L. Wright)
Wright told a newspaper reporter in 1925 that he made the most important arrest of his entire career during his third year as a deputy sheriff in Wilson County. The crime was certainly spectacular, and it resulted in the first legal execution in the county. Maximo Martinez, a thirty-six-year-old Tejano ranch hand, was separated from his wife and working at a place near Floresville. He became infatuated with a young female neighbor, eighteen-year-old Juanita Acosta, and tried to convince her to run away with him. Three times they agreed to meet, but each time she failed to appear. Enraged, Maximo on the night of June 5, 1897, attacked Juanita in her bedroom at her grandparents' home. Stabbed in the back, she tried to climb out of a window but was stabbed again in the chest. When her grandparents, Plutarco and Dolores Carillo, attempted to intervene, Martinez killed each of them in turn by smashing their heads with an axe. He then "ravished" Juanita, stabbed her at least two more times, and carried her body, wrapped in a quilt, out to the yard, where he left it and rode for Mexico. Juanita's uncle, who was attending a dance, came home to find her dead in the yard, nude from the waist down. He also found his mother dead, and his father died soon afterward, never regaining consciousness.16
Sheriff Craighead must have been out of town or otherwise unavailable, because the first law enforcement officials who arrived at the scene were County Judge Henry B. Gouger, County Physician Jefferson M. "Mack" Mason, and four deputy sheriffs, including Wright. Gouger questioned the uncle and several neighbors, all of whom told him to find Martinez. Sheriff W. T. "Brack" Morris, of adjacent Karnes County, led the pursuit south to the Rio Grande, believing Martinez had fled directly to Mexico. The posse included Wright and fellow Wilson County deputy Juan Garza, along with Morris and two of his deputies. Well-known trackers Emanuel M. and Charles T. Tom joined the group in Atascosa County. On June 10, they found the killer, "afoot and shoeless," hiding in some cactus on the Osborn Ranch near the boundary of Webb and McMullen counties, 150 miles from Floresville. He surrendered without a fight to Garza and readily confessed because he feared that he would be lynched if the lawmen did not take him into custody. Among the alarming details he told his captors was that he had intended to kill his estranged wife and their two children as well as those he murdered, but daylight came too soon, and so he fled without completing his scheme.17
Martinez did avoid being lynched, but he was legally hanged after a series of events that Wright would vividly remember. Detailed to accompany Morris in escorting Martinez back to the county jail in Floresville, where he would remain during his trial, Wright with the sheriff and their prisoner exited the train a short distance away from their destination. Riders waited there to transport them into town. When the train pulled into the Floresville depot, hundreds of people greeted it, apparently intending to lynch Martinez. They were not pleased to discover that their intended victim had been safely placed in the local jail while they waited for him at the station. Some attempted to storm the jail later, but local officers stood their ground and the would-be lynch mob departed. Martinez was convicted on June 23, 1897 and hanged on July 30 from a gallows built next to the jail. As the first legal execution in Wilson County, the event attracted a lot of attention, and Martinez made the most of it. Permitted to speak to curious newsmen, he told them that he had killed the older couple so there would be no witnesses. He wanted a brass band to play at his hanging, but that request was denied. A crowd of several thousand watched the execution, which was done under the direction of Sheriff Craighead. Before the hanging, salesmen circulated, plying their trade. A gramophone dealer made records and played them, while a fire extinguisher vendor caused a stampede by setting a model house afire for a demonstration. Wright recalled that it was the "wildest crowd" he ever saw at an execution. At the appointed time, Martinez, who had been given a tin cup of whiskey, stepped through a second-story window from thejail onto the gallows. There he gave a speech and sang several songs, including a corrido about himself and a love song to his victim, which was recorded on the gramophone with the understanding that a portion of the profits from the recordings would be given to his wife. Wright put a black hood on him, put a noose around his neck, and almost forgot to step off the trap door before it fell open, dropping Martinez and breaking his neck.18
Horses as Transportation
Until the internal combustion engine eventually made them obsolete as the primary mode of transportation, the horse amounted to the Texan's "automobile."
With several generations of Texans now much more familiar with gas burners than oat-powered modes of locomotion, it is easy to think of horses and cars as virtually the same things. But the only similarity is that each, in their day, became the preferred means of personal transportation.
Even after Henry Ford began mass production of his Model T in 1908, Texans who had grown up in the horse era had a hard time adjusting to the new-fangled horseless carriages. Texas Ranger Capt. Will Wright, one of the state's better-known lawmen, reluctantly made the transition from horse to automobile.
Early on, he employed a young man (a civilian) to be his driver. One person who drove for him was the late Bob Snow, who later became a Texas game warden.
"If I drove too fast," Snow recalled, "the captain would tell me to slow down so he could watch the grass grow."
In time, Wright and most other Texans adjusted. But muscle memory takes a while to overcome. Automobiles, some learned the hard way, do not stop when you yell "whoa"!
The portrayal of the horse in American popular culture, of course, has not helped anyone gain an accurate understanding of how those who lived in Texas in the 18th, 19th or early 20th century got around. If you believe most Western movies or television shows, a horse was instantly available and as untiring as a hunk of metal and plastic you start with a key or by pushing a button.
The truth is, as anyone who has read much about the West or spent any time cleaning out a corral could readily tell you, a horse is an animal, not a machine. But they require every bit as much maintenance as an automobile and are a whole lot less forgiving if their care gets short shrift.
One difference between a horse and a car, of course, is mileage.
A person can get behind the wheel of a car, and, depending on how much gas they have in their tank and how strong or weak their own bladder is, can emerge three-and-a-half hours later 200 miles away. With a horse, a good day's ride amounted to 30 miles. Experienced, determined riders on a fine horse could push the distance to 40 and even up to 80 miles.
"Forty miles a day on beans and hay" was a popular expression when an Army cavalry regiment consisted of horses, not armored vehicles or helicopters.
Riding a horse real hard, however, could leave it jaded, or even permanently unfit for riding. Sometimes, an extremely tough ride could kill a horse.
To make it as easy on government stock as possible, the Army liked its cavalrymen to weigh 140 pounds or so. A bigger man was extra work for his mount, not to mention that he made an easier target for any enemy.
The Army way, when on the march, was for the men to be in the saddle 45 minutes of every hour. For a quarter of each hour, the troops dismounted and walked ahead of their horse, giving the animal a chance to rest a bit and cool down. At noon, Army horses on patrol would be unsaddled and allowed to graze and rest. Later in the afternoon, the bugler's "Stable Call" meant it was time to tend to your horse. That had to be done before a soldier had his evening meal.
Speaking of grazing, in fall or winter, anyone traveling by horseback had to carry horse feed (either oats or corn) or depend on some place that had an available supply. In the spring, a hardy horse could get by on native grass, assuming it had not been spoiled to oats or corn.
Those who prevailed in early Texas were people who learned how to best handle their horses. Generally, Texans could outride poorly-training and sometimes ill-mounted federal troops. Comanches, often described as having been the finest light cavalry in the world during their heyday, could sometimes outride either soldiers or Texans.
No matter how skilled the rider, a horse could not go faster than a gasoline-powered vehicle. But perception of speed is another thing.
Texas storyteller J. Frank Dobie, who as a young man spent plenty of time in the saddle, had this to say about the difference:
"Although machinery has reduced miles to minute decimals, it has not reduced the sense of speed felt by a horseman and shared by his horse. A running team of mustangs hitched to a buckboard will give the rider more sense of motion that the fastest automobile on a straight concrete road."
And a bag of feed costs a whole lot less than a tank of gas.
(Courtesy of Mike Cox from "Texas Tales" June 18, 2019)
"Texas Ranger Captain William L. Wright"
Richard McCaslin, Author .... of many books including "Sutherland Springs, Texas Saratoga of the Cibolo" has a new book published. "Texas Ranger Captain William L. Wright" began from Rick's great interest in him as he researched material for his Sutherland Springs book.
Rick gifted his newest book to me along with his permission to use parts for my "Talk of Wilson County Tx Historic Towns" blog. "Texas Ranger Captain William L. Wright" is based on archival sources and a researched biography of the legendary Wilson County Texas ...Texas Ranger.
William Leonidas Wright
William Leonidas Wright .... was born to be a Texas Ranger; hard work made him a great one. His mother, Ann Elizabeth Tumlinson Wright, was the proud daughter of a well-known antebellum Ranger, Joseph L. Tumlinson, whose two brothers, John J. Tumlinson Jr. and Peter F. Tumlinson, were Ranger captains. Wright's brother, Milam H. Wright, became a Ranger, and their sister Zora Lee Wright married erstwhile Ranger Charles P. Warren. Wright married Mary Ann "Mollie" Brown, whose father and two brothers—Sanford N., Charles B., and Gratz D. Brown—were Rangers, and they had five sons, three of whom—Charles H. ("Pat"), Emanuel A. ("Dogie"), and William B. ("Bill") Wright—served as Rangers. Wright tried working as a cowboy and farmer, like many men of his generation in rural Texas, but it did not suit him. Instead, he became a deputy sheriff and then a Ranger, as he seemed destined to do. His need for a better salary to support his growing family pushed him to leave the Rangers and become a sheriff, an office also held by his father Little Berry "L.B." Wright, brother Milam, son Dogie, and at least six cousins: Mike B. Wright, Thomas C. "Creed" Taylor, William A. "Alonzo" Taylor, William W. Taylor, Joseph Tumlinson, and Peter C. Tumlinson. Wright remained in that office longer than any of his predecessors in Wilson County, but when an opportunity came, he returned to the Rangers as a captain and served for most of two decades. Considering his lineage, it is hard to imagine what else he might have done. At least eight relatives were Rangers before the Civil War, while five served in the Frontier Battalion,and twenty-two were in the Ranger Force. That he outshone most of his contemporaries was due to his work ethic. After his father died when Wright was just fourteen years of age, he became a ranch hand to help take care of his widowed mother. Then came his attempt at farming, followed by his decision to be a deputy sheriff and Ranger, all prompted by the need to support his immediate family. At the same time, Texas experienced rapid population growth and economic development, with New South ideals challenging those of the Old West. Wright thus not only learned to rope and ride but also became well accustomed to enforcing the law in an era marked by change, all of which made him an effective Ranger as he worked hard to uphold his family legacy and earn his pay.
COURTESY / Richard McCaslin, Author
WILLIAM LEE WRIGHT
Reader Guy W Davis came up on this book in a yard sale recently. The book, " A Pictorial History of Texas Rangers" was compiled in January 1969 by Charles Schreiner III, Audrey Schreiner, Robert Berryman, and Hal F. Matheny. TWCTHT is pleased Guy is sharing the information on Ranger Wright.